What is the significance of Hebron in the Bible?

Hebron is a city nestled in the mountains about twenty-five miles south of Jerusalem in the Judahite hill country. It is significant throughout the Old Testament for a few reasons.

It is from this location that God showed Abraham (still named Abram at the time) the land he and his descendants were to inherit. God declared, "Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever" (Genesis 13:14–15). "So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD" (Genesis 13:18). God brought Abraham to the land of Canaan and promised him that he and his descendants would possess it. As an act of faith and obedience, Abraham settled in Hebron and built an altar, making this location both his home and place of worship.

Abraham and Sarah were still living there decades later at the time of Sarah's death. Abraham cemented Hebron as the family's new and permanent homeland by purchasing a cave as a burial site (Genesis 23:17–20). This cave in the field of Machpelah became the burial site of the family—for Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, as well as for Jacob and Leah, which is why it is now referred to as The Cave of the Patriarchs (Genesis 25:9–11; 35:27–29; 47:29–30; 49:30–32; 50:1–13).

Many generations later, after God rescued Abraham's descendants from their time of slavery in Egypt, Hebron was the first city the Israelite spies encountered when they surveyed the Promised Land (Numbers 13:22). They were impressed by the city's size and fortifications as they compared it to Zoan in Egypt (Numbers 13:22; Joshua 14:12). They were also intimidated by the city's inhabitants, the descendants of Anak (Joshua 14:12). There were only two spies out of twelve who trusted that God could give the land of Canaan, including the city of Hebron, to the formerly enslaved Israelites. Those spies were Caleb and Joshua. Thus, forty years later, when God brought the next generation of Israelites into the Promised Land and the previous inhabitants were driven out, Caleb and his family were given Hebron as part of their allotment (Joshua 14:14).

Each tribe was to have Levites living among them and some of the Levite cities were to be designated as cities of refuge where people who had accidentally killed someone could seek refuge from the "avenger of blood" (relatives who could avenge a murder victim. See Numbers 35). Hebron was declared to be a Levitical city of refuge within the territory of Judah, specifically belonging to Caleb (Joshua 21:11–13).

Many generations later, Hebron became David's city of refuge and the city where he first became king. After hearing about Saul's death, David asked God if he should return to the land of Judah and God responded that he should settle in Hebron (2 Samuel 2:1). David obediently relocated his family and followers to Hebron where "the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah" (2 Samuel 2:4). "And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months" (2 Samuel 2:11). After the northern tribes of Isreal's king, Ish-bosheth, was assassinated, "the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel" (2 Samuel 5:3). David then moved his place of reign from Hebron to Jerusalem "and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three [more] years" (2 Samuel 5:5).

When David's son Absalom decided to raise a rebellion to try to overthrow his father, he chose Hebron as his launching place (2 Samuel 15:7–12). In Hebron, he was declared king by his followers and eventually led those followers to invade Jerusalem and installed himself in the palace. After fleeing to Mahanaim, David and his men ultimately faced Absalom and his followers in battle in the forest of Ephraim where David's army defeated Absalom's and Absalom was killed by one of David's commanders (2 Samuel 18:7, 14). Thus, David returned to Jerusalem as a victorious king having conquered the rebellion started in Hebron (2 Samuel 20:3).

While Hebron was the place God asked Abraham to settle, the location of the tombs of the patriarchs, the city that intimidated the Israelite spies, and the initial place of David's reign, it did not hold magical ability to bestow power or success to Absalom in his attempt at rebellion. Hebron sat at an important crossroads along trading routes with the Dead Sea to the east, the coastal plains to the west, Jerusalem to the north, and Egypt to the south, but any town's success depends on God's favor (Psalm 127:1; Job 12:23; Acts 17:26). Thus, there is nothing inherent to Hebron that makes it significant in the Bible other than it being a place God chose to bring blessing to those who were faithful to Him. Abraham saw the Promised Land from there, Caleb inherited that land, and David began his reign in this city, but it was the faith and obedience of these men that God rewarded—not their mere presence at this location, as proved by Absalom's defeat. May we trust and obey the Lord no matter our location.

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